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The Net Takeaway: "Uniques" problem


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"Uniques" problem · 04/21/2004 05:57 PM, Analysis

We’ve struggled with the unique user problem in web analysis since we first started. And it ain’t over yet. An article in Editor & Publisher points out some recent research which, yet again, shows that uniques via a log file don’t reflect self-reported behavior. Other research shows that cookie uniques do not match data from login counts (didn’t get much play here in the US, but read all about it here).

This is nothing new; at Strategic Interactive Group (now Digitas), we were calculating correction factors for this problem in 1995.

I guess I get frustrated that
a) we keep talking about this problem, and
b) we don’t just solve it.

I am amazed at the continual fear of cookies, for no real reason. That being said, as we continue to find ways to add value to a user’s experience in exchange for a cookie, we may yet get past this.

Of course I said that almost ten years ago, but hope springs eternal.

How might we solve it? Besides requiring logins, we can be good marketers (as above) and provide value for cookies. We can estimate a correction factor based on cookied individuals. We can compare cookies to IP over a time period to get a feel for transitions (DHCP doesn’t expire as fast as everyone thinks, and of course, AOL is always a pain) and understand whether cookies are really being deleted or not. Remember, just because it happens to their site doesn’t necessarily mean its happening to yours; its an empirical question.

And most importantly, our research implies that most people, most consumers, on average, just aren’t deleting them… and those who are may not be the best prospects for what you are selling. So consider the specifics of your situation before jumping to conclusions.

As far as the “value for identification” transaction, I like the “bait and switch” techniques of Orbitz. The first search for airfare is “free”, no login required. But as soon as you see one you want more info on, or you want to edit your search… you have to login. By this time, you are committed, and you will login. There is a value to doing so: getting the fare info you are looking for.

So, instead of cookieing wildly and wondering why users are deleting, let’s make overt the cookie, and explain why, and give a really good value reason.

Or, we can just keep bringing up the uniques vs. visits issue every other week or so, as an easy conversational fallback. Your call.

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